Nearly a year after Bexar County Commissioners approved its construction, county officials Friday previewed progress on the jail's new central processing center and South Unit, set to open later this year.
The $32.8 million, five-story building includes the new magistrate facility, about 500 additional beds, and more classroom and medical space that will be used to evaluate detainees for potential pretrial diversion programs.
Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar said that construction on the new Justice Intake Center sought to implement best practices learned from other Texas and national counties. Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff described the current magistrate building as being from the "19th century." The new facility utilizes an open-booking concept, in which people brought to the jail will be able to sit in an open area instead of initially being locked inside a holding cell.
The magistrate will handle arrests made by Sheriff's deputies, local municipalities, and from the police departments of the other 26 cities within Bexar County. The City of San Antonio, however, will not use the new facility's services.
In a document obtained by the Rivard Report, the San Antonio Police Department stated reasons it would not use the facility, including that officers would have to spend more time booking prisoners while they wait for the completion of medical screenings.
The SAPD also stated that the new facility would not adequately process prisoners for low-level misdemeanors and would not be able to process people arrested for public inebriation. The department also said the facility did not have enough room for law enforcement personnel and enough parking for officers booking prisoners.
Mike Lozito, Bexar County's director of judicial services, told the Rivard Report that the average processing time at the old facilities ranges from 12 to 16 hours. He estimated that the new facilities would cut that time roughly in half.
"I'm disappointed, obviously," Wolff said. "We're hoping that as we move along and they see how we do it ... they will decide to come over here."
Wolff said prisoners would be screened more effectively for mental and physical health problems inside the new facility, something that simply couldn't be done in the cramped space at 401 S. Frio St. He said those screenings could help the county place non-violent offenders into mental health or substance abuse programs that lessen their chances for recidivism.
"This whole philosophy that's built here on the therapeutic justice system finds those individuals that are non-violent and safely gets them into the community with programming," said Michael Ugarte, Bexar County's presiding magistrate.
There will be 150 available seats in the open-area booking center, with 10 holding rooms nearby capable of holding up to four people.
In addition to the booking center, the new building also houses office spaces for district clerk employees, sheriff's deputies, public defenders, judicial services, district attorney's staff, and for University Health System workers who will help screen and treat inmates.
Salazar said that the new facility also includes state-of-the-art detention security electronics.
Monica Ramos, public information officer for Bexar County, said Friday that contractor Butler-Cohen would likely finish construction on the facility, which was designed by Muñoz and Company by the end of July.